Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Tomorrow, June 14, Is World Blood Donor Day

Have you ever given blood if you are medically able to do so? Do you know anyone who has ever needed blood? I'm afraid I have to admit that I'm always surprised when I hear "no" to the first question and "yes" to the second - from the same person. Since tomorrow is World Blood Donor Day, I thought this would be a good time to discuss this topic.

According to the World Health Organization, globally, the majority of donors are male, with only 30% of blood donations given by women. In many parts of the world, this drops to less than 10%.

Broken down by age, donors fall into the following age categories:

Under 18 years: 5%
18 to 24 years: 31%
24 to 44 years: 35%
45 to 64 years: 25%
65 years and older: 3%

What can one unit of donated blood do? It can save lives. But it's not just the actual blood that does the magic, it's the components from the blood. Blood is broken down and different people receive different components, according to what they need: red blood cells, plasma, platelets.

America's Blood Centers has a list of 56 facts about blood - it's an interesting read. It starts with:

  1. 4.5 million Americans will a need blood transfusion each year.
  2. 43,000 pints: amount of donated blood used each day in the U.S. and Canada.
  3. Someone needs blood every two seconds.

There are many reasons why someone can't give blood. I used to give blood as often as I could, but now that I am so fatigued on a good day, I'm not allowed to donate.  As someone with O negative blood (the universal donor), I thought it was particularly important for me to donate and I'm frustrated at this change in events. To give blood, you have to be healthy yourself, not only free of illnesses that you could potentially pass on to a blood recipient, but free of illnesses that would make it harder on you after you've given blood.

Although I used to give regularly, there were times I was turned away because my blood pressure was too low (my average BP used to be around 100/55; anything lower than that is not accepted by most blood donor services) or my pulse was too high - over 100. This was for my own safety. They don't want people passing out and getting injured after donating blood. Completely understandable, I think.

Unfortunately though, there are people who don't give blood for reasons that don't make sense to me:

They don't have time. Many services have service outside of "normal" business hours. Yes, sometimes it does take a while to get through the procedure, but that's what books, MP3 players, and friends are for. ;-)

They don't like needles. No-one likes needles. I've never heard anyone say "hey! I'm going to get a needle stuck in me today!" I used to feel faint at the sight of a needle and, yes, the first few times, I was a bit queasy. But it goes away.

One time, several years into my habit of giving blood, I had a bad experience. I got very faint very quickly and felt horrid while donating - they had to stop the procedure. I remember being very frustrated because that hadn't happened in a long time and I happened to bring my oldest son with me that time (he was about 10 or 11, I believe) so he could see what it was all about.

I have to admit, that experience did make me nervous the next time I went, but it never repeated. I just made sure to tell the nurse that we could not speed up my donation time (by squeezing a ball), because that made my blood pressure drop quickly.

In 2007, I wrote about a decrease in blood donations (Have you donated blood recently?) and how blood is processed and used. It's an ongoing topic that bears revisiting on a much more regular basis.

Of course, blood donation is a personal choice and one that needs to be made freely and without pressure. Think about it though. If you need blood to save your life or someone you cared about does - what would happen if everyone felt the same way about not donating?

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